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SAUDI ARABIA Women petition Saudi king for right to drive

Give us the right to drive, women urge Saudi king

AFP
June 14, 2012
Image Credit: Reuters

Riyadh: Hundreds of people have petitioned Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to allow women to get behind the wheel on the first anniversary of the Women2Drive campaign launched in June 2011.

The signatories, who numbered nearly 600 on Wednesday, are asking the king of the only country in the world that forbids women to drive to “encourage women who have obtained driving licences from neighbouring countries to begin driving whenever necessary.”

They also called on the monarch to “establish driving schools for women and [begin] issuing licences.”

The petition thanked the king, a cautious reformer, for giving women the right to vote in municipal elections set to take place in 2015, saying “our initiative is not aimed at violating laws.”

“We only want to enjoy the right to drive like all women over the world,” said the petition signed by Manal Al Sherif, the icon of an Internet campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy the driving ban.

Najla Hariri, a Saudi mother who was freed after she was briefly arrested for driving in the western city of Jeddah in August, said “the petition will be handed to the king on our campaign’s anniversary on Sunday.”

Sheima Jastaniah, who was pardoned by the king after being sentenced to 10 lashes for breaking the driving ban last September, has also signed the petition.

Hundreds of women have driven since the campaign was launched and many of them have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge stating they will never drive again, according to activists.

A group of defiant women got behind the wheel of their cars last June in response to calls for nationwide action to break the ban.

The campaign, which spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars.

There is no law that specifically forbids women to drive, but the minister of interior formally banned women from driving following that protest.

Women who have the financial means hire drivers while others must depend on the goodwill of male relatives to get around.

They also have to be veiled in public and may not travel unless accompanied by their husbands or a close male relative.

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